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Chavis on CNN.com: Money won’t fix bad schools

Ben Chavis, former director of Oakland’s high-performing American Indian Public Charter School, surfaces again to promote his educational philosophy (and new book) — this time on CNN.com.

“I believe all the money in the world would not be enough to improve schools run by incompetent public school administrators,” he wrote in a commentary published this week. (Last month, he called to ask what OUSD’s total budget was. I gave him the figure I reported in June, a fact he attributed directly to me in the piece.)

An interesting assertion to make, especially at a time when schools are making such deep cuts, with more to come. In your view, is there any truth to his argument?

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Schwarzenegger says he stands with Obama, calls for swift changes to California ed laws


File photo

During a press conference this morning that veered suddenly into a Q & A about prison reform (and never really went back), the governor announced he was lining up with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama — and that the state planned “to go all out” to make California eligible for competitive federal stimulus funding.

Schwarzenegger said he was calling a special legislative session to do away with laws that might make California ineligible. He has asked state Legislators to present him with a package by early October that would lift the state’s charter school cap and allow teacher evaluations to be linked to student test scores.

“The Obama administration has pointed to California and said we have no way to distinguish good teachers from bad teachers, and I happen to agree with that,” Schwarzenegger said. ”They call it a firewall and I say, `Let’s tear down that wall.”‘ Continue Reading

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First, teachers. Now, principals.

It’s not only teacher evaluations that education reformers are hoping to infuse with data.

Emily Alpert of Voice of San Diego.org writes about a new proposal in San Diego that would use attendance, test scores and dropout rates in the evaluation of school principals. You can find her story here.

Speaking of test scores: I learned a new term today on Ed Week’s Teacher Beat blog: DRIP (Data Rich, Information Poor) Syndrome.

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Obama calls social promotion “a disservice”

In an interview with the Washington Post about his education agenda, Obama cited a controversial Chicago policy as an example of how his administration would raise standards.

In the 1990s, Chicago Public Schools stopped promoting students to the next grade — or graduating them from high school – just because they were a certain age. Obama said it is now ”obvious” that so-called social promotion is a “disservice to students” and their parents.

(You might recall that high-level Oakland school administrators have taken the opposite tack, as seen in the student retention memo that I posted the other month.) Continue Reading

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Can Oakland’s new supe find common ground?

New schools superintendent Tony Smith says he aims to get people to put politics and ideology aside — yes, he’s talking about doing this in Oakland! — and focus on what works for kids. 

As evidence that this was possible, Smith said the goals expressed by teachers union president Betty Olson-Jones at a recent one-on-one meeting overlapped with some of the core principles that emerged during an event organized by the new, reform-minded coalition Great Oakland Public Schools (to which Olson-Jones said she was not invited).

What common ground do you see in OUSD? I wrote a story about Smith’s first couple of weeks on the job, which is in today’s Trib. You can find it here.

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Spinning school improvement

Much was made of the progress in Chicago’s public schools when Arne Duncan, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, was tapped to become the U.S. Secretary of Education.

But maybe the gains made during Duncan’s seven-year tenure in the Windy City weren’t that boast-worthy, after all.

USA Today reporter Greg Toppo points out the contrast between some of the statements made by President Barack Obama about Chicago schools in December and the findings of a new report by the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago, a group that backed Duncan’s and Mayor Daley’s calls for more mayoral control of the educational system. Continue Reading

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The Plan? Just fire the teachers and start over

As you might have read by now, President Obama and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, plan to encourage school administrators to close and re-open 5,000 of the nation’s worst schools — and hire a new slate of teachers and principals, or convert them into independently run charter schools  — with $5 billion in education stimulus funds as an incentive.

If that’s the secret to improving public education, Oakland is really ahead of the curve. I wonder if the district is even eligible for these funds; it’s already closed and re-opened most of its lowest-performing schools and converted some to charters. Continue Reading

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A closer look at Oakland’s small schools reform


photo by Laura A. Oda/Oakland Tribune

It took two years of reporting (and a healthy amount of procrastination) to polish off a retrospective piece on Oakland’s small schools movement. Well, here you have it.

There are three related stories in Wednesday’s Tribune: An analysis of the ins and outs, ups and downs of the effort; a short profile on Elmhurst Community Prep and its principal, a small schools convert; and another short(ish) piece about the schools and the people who haven’t fared so well in this whole experiment. Continue Reading

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Do states need common education standards?

Lately, there’s been a big push to put all 50 states on the same page with regard to what’s taught — and tested — in schools.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee holds a hearing on the subject. The hearing is described, in a press advisory, as an opportunity to “examine how states can better prepare their students to compete in a global economy by using internationally benchmarked common standards.”

What do you make of this movement? What potential advantages do you see, and what pitfalls?

The witnesses for next week’s hearing, listed below, include the co-founder of KIPP and the AFT President:

Continue Reading

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Report follows the grass-roots organizers who brought small schools to Oakland


Tribune file photo of Acorn Woodland Elementary School by Alex Molloy

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University has spent six years studying a major initiative of the Oakland Community Organizations: to radically change public education in the city’s flatlands neighborhoods by creating small schools. Tonight at Castlemont’s East Oakland School of the Arts (EOSA), researchers discussed the findings. Continue Reading